Nyoka Criticises Transformation

Dr. Mtutalezi Nyoka has a point when he criticises South Africa’s cricket transformation. Nyoka, who resigned recently as chairman of the Gauteng Cricket Board, attacked as "buffoonery” and "pure idiocy” the United Cricket Board’s statement that transformation is working.

In the wake of his resignation, Nyoka publicly argued that the UCB " discriminates against blacks and vehemently so, against black Africans.” In general, the doctor’s insights are conclusory and smack of racial instigating rather than legitimate criticism.

In Nyoka’s opinion, the UCB has let black Africans down. "No man can belong to an organisation in which his people's inferiority is assumed without building up powerful resentments. This is the source of my frustrations, this is the source of my anger. At times it seems there is an acceptance within cricket that the African can only run so fast and no faster, and so far and no further,” Nyoka said. "How do we tell this country's 35 million black Africans, transformation is working when only one player represents them in a national squad? While the numbers of the other racial groups are on the increase the African continues to be under-represented. Makhaya Ntini, alone holds the African flag in the senior team.”

Although Mfuneko Ngam would have represented South Africa this summer absent injury, that should not have stemmed Nyoka’s accusations. He just as easily could have asked "How do we tell this country's 35 million black Africans that transformation is working when only two players represent them in a national squad?”

Inviting as Nyoka’s argument appears, it doesn’t stand scrutiny. Nyoka’s conclusions are unsupported by evidence of discrimination. Discrimination implies that African players are excluded solely because of skin colour, yet Nyoka names not a single African player about whom the argument plausibly can be made, nor does he provide evidence of discriminatory policies, practices, or intent.

Nyoka’s reasoning relies on a classic "cart before the horse” flaw: there is only one African in the national team, so the UCB must be discriminatory. That in no way establishes there is only one African in the national team because the UCB discriminates. The appearance of a discriminatory outcome does not necessarily establish a discriminatory cause. If the Pakistani cricket team includes no Hindus, it does not necessarily follow the PCB deliberately excludes qualified Hindu players because they are Hindu.

Nyoka’s credibility also is questionable. His racial slur calling UCB chief Gerald Majola an affirmative action choice to run South African cricket itself assumes the inferiority of Africans, as he has attacked Majola’s qualifications purely on racial grounds. He unsuccessfully opposed Percy Sonn for UCB president and his tirade smells like resentment. Finally, Nyoka was absent at the UCB meeting dealing with transformation issues. Additionally, Nyoka’s inherent implication that even an all non-white team is unacceptable if not primarily African is remarkably reminiscent of Apartheid’s "divide and rule” strategy. Herein, lies the danger of quota systems and race as the primarily determinant of sporting merit.

Yet despite poor credibility, flawed reasoning and unsubstantiated accusations, Nyoka does raise serious questions. The fact, Ntini and Ngam apart, no African players are pressing for national honours indicates transformation might not be bringing cricket to Africans as successfully as it could. The African community is the largest homogeneous population in South Africa, representing about three-quarters of all South Africans. Certainly, the empirical evidence somewhat supports Nyoka’s claim about the growing number of non-white players in top class cricket while Africans remain under-represented.  Of the top non-white players; Justin Ontong, Roger Telemachus, Goolam Bodi, Thami Tsolekile, Charl Langeveldt, brothers Hashim and Ahmed Amla, Ashwell Prince, Robin Peterson and Garnett Kruger – only Tsolekile is African.

The composition of the recent under-19 World Cup team, reflected a disproportionate imbalance disfavoring Africans. "In this case we again exceeded our targets and had eight black players, and yet on careful scrutiny, one realised there was only one black African in the squad,” Nyoka said. African under-representation may be understandable in the national team considering Apartheid fell only ten years ago, but the disparity at the under-19 level suggests something more pervasive.  discrimination, however, is not the answer.

Cricket is an expensive sport, requiring bats and equipment, access to proper facilities, decent wickets and good weather. In post-Apartheid South Africa, the African community remains the poorest. During Apartheid, Indian expatriates and coloureds enjoyed greater commercial rights and privileges than Africans. The Indian community legally could engage in limited commercial enterprise, while Africans were relegated to unskilled labour activities. The socio-economic impacts of a century of racial division affects modern South African industry, society and sport. African families today devote more of their resources to living costs and have less time and disposable income for expensive sports like cricket.  Soccer offers a cheaper alternative; it can be played anywhere and in most conditions. Socio-economic reasons therefore contribute to African under representation in cricket.

As recently as 1990, anti-Apartheid leaders condemned cricket as a symbol of African repression, organizing aggressive protests against rebel tourists. Before and during isolation, most non-white South Africans cheered South African defeat by touring teams. Anti-cricket attitudes became enmeshed with anti-Apartheid resistance. Undoubtedly, some resentment and anti-cricket attitudes persist, if only subconsciously. By contrast, soccer has always been less symbolic of white conquest. Historic cultural resistance thus informs another reason for cricket’s relatively slow growth in African communities.

Geography also plays a part. Early British settlers established colonies on South Africa’s southern and eastern coasts, while South Africa’s Dutch settlers moved inland. Cricket thus thrived and developed along the coastal regions. Unsurprisingly, coastal African communities have been quicker to adopt cricket, with a rich, but largely ignored history of African cricket in those areas. Both Ntini and Ngam hail from coastal regions.  Similarly, the coloured and Malay communities are most populous in coastal regions and most Indian expatriates to South Africa has already been exposed to cricket under British rule in India.

Dr. Nyoka therefore raises legitimate concerns: transformation among African communities is not entirely successful because it does little to overcome the social, economic, cultural and geographic obstacles to cricket development among African communities.

Nyoka gave one interesting example of why he believed transformation targets were not being met. "In Gauteng we have one cricket club in Soweto, a township of close to three million people. When the target was two players of colour in every provincial team, we simply took two players from this team. When the target was three, we took three players from the same team. In this case we are meeting our targets, but are we really spreading the game in this township? Can we with any justification say to this community transformation is working?”

Transformation is about spreading cricket throughout South Africa’s disadvantaged communities to foster development and access an untapped talent pool. The attendant side effect is a national team that reflects South Africa’s demographics on merit. The best way to spread cricket is to increase the number of people playing the game, which requires increasing the number of local clubs. A township like Soweto should benefit from multiple clubs, thereby fostering growth through increased membership and competition.

Simply funneling players through the same siphon does little to transform and fosters growth at a painfully protracted rate. It also weakens grassroots cricket because of a lack of competition and a narrow talent pool. The first-class system becomes diluted as provincial teams pluck mediocre players of colour from the limited available clubs to fulfill quota requirements and the overall quality of South African cricket suffers.  Provincial teams might prefer to fulfill their quota requirements from non-African clubs, instead looking to Indian and coloured communities.

Ultimately, none of the goals of transformation can be met without expansion and development of club cricket into African communities.  Without UCB support of local club growth, insufficient African players will be attracted to cricket as an alternative to soccer, or be able to afford to participate in cricket at all. The elitist and exclusionary view of cricket perpetuated by cultural resistance to white colonisation and Apartheid will persist and the UCB will never tap the talent of the African majority.

At the first-class level, African players will remain token picks because of the dilution effect of funneling mediocre players through the few African area clubs. This flawed system will perpetuate the racial slur of the black player being "not good enough.” Administrative politics truly will have betrayed the aspirations of the African people.

Dr. Nyoka’s diatribes are undiplomatic and poorly rationalized, his scathing condemnations provide no constructive input into the transformation debate; his approach has earned him no favours. In the end, Nyoka’s failure to find answers is not cause for concern. After all, it’s the questions he raises, which matter the most.

©Justin Lichterman


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